Population Vs Food: Is Nature Doing the Balancing Act?

‘The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.  This implies a strong and constantly operating check on population from the difficulty of subsistence.’

Thomas Robert Malthus in ‘Essay on the Principle of Population ‘ 1798

Malthusian theory is no stranger to the world of economic development. The link between population growth and food production was brought forward by Thomas Robert Malthus. Malthus contended that the human population must be kept in check in order to ensure that agricultural production stays at level.

But the theory was ridiculed on various grounds.  Yet, this year, it seems Malthus was correct for one kind of checks seem to be at work.  Nature seems to playing a balancing act  and is set on exposing various developmental flaws of various countries and international policies and theories regarding food production.

2010: The Year of Disasters

2010 is witnessing some of the disastrous natural calamities and an erratic climate behavior. It has left the global world stunned for the sudden change has given birth to altogether new images and scenarios.  It reminds me of one of the several scenes in the film ‘Day After Tomorrow’ and I wonder whether the human race has really entered the next phrase of climate and environment change.

Haiti Earthquake

Haiti Earthquake 2010

The year began with a powerful earthquake of magnitude 7 hitting Haiti, leaving 230,000 dead and 1 million homeless. Next, it hit Chile with a magnitude of 8.8 (on the moment magnitude scale) unleashing tsunami in coastal regions, causing major collateral damage and leading to power cutouts in several parts of the country. The earthquake was powerful enough that seismologists believe it actually shortened the length of the day by 1.26 microseconds and moved the Earth’s figure axis by 8 cm or 2.7 milliarcseconds!

The earthquake activity was perhaps a signal that worse will follow. In April, Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted with great intensity shocking the world.  The volcano spewed out volumes of ash cloud covering major air-miles in a matter of minutes. Floods, disruption of air traffic, shutdown of Europe’s busiest airports and millions of passengers stranded became the main headlines.  The airlines suffered immense losses due to the cancellation of flights and closure of various airports.

The eruption indicated that the earth is undergoing a series of changes as the signs emerged. Adding to natural furore was the climate change. The impact has been felt across the board for the climate knows neither boundaries nor limits.

Iceland Volcano Eruption to a shocked world

Middle East, well-known for its scorching heat and desert environment, has experienced record-breaking heat temperatures this year.  The high temperatures led to power shortages (virtually unknown in this part of the world) in various countries of the Middle East including Sharjah, Qatar and main cities of Saudi Arabia Jeddah, Taif, Mecca and Medina. The power shortages are continuing in Egypt.

It is important to note that all these events have taken place with the global economic recovering in the background after the worst financial crisis of 2008-09 plunged the world into a major recession. This was then followed by the Euro crisis which further sent aftershocks to the global economy making the recovery weaker.

Yet, behind all this, a major crisis was brewing and no one thought of it. It was gathering momentum and waiting for an appropriate time to strike making the Malthusian theory a reality.

Food Crisis Unleashed in 2010

The food crisis has re-emerged  to unleash further chaos in the global economy.

The crisis first emerged in 2007-2008 when the prices of food staples skyrocketed leading to riots in various countries.  Major exporters like India and Pakistan placed export bans on the staples in order to secure the supply for their domestic needs. The food market became highly volatile and market regulation was strongly demanded to avoid such drastic fluctuations.

Joachim Von Braun – The Director General of The International Food Policy Program in  2008 argued that the financial crisis and the food crisis have become inter-twined and were going to feed each other. Hunger will increase. And it seems he was right.

Fight for Food in Pakistan

Russia is facing severe drought and wildfires across its region, especially, where wheat is harvested. Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced an export ban on wheat leading to high prices of wheat in international market.

The catastrophic floods of Pakistan have wiped out entire agricultural lands and have damaged the basic infrastructure such as bridges, roads and electricity.  Approximately, 600,000 tonne of wheat and 2 billion bales of cotton is destroyed. Various areas are still inaccessible leaving the survivors stranded for food and aid.

Worse, there is a higher probability of water-borne, air-borne and vector-borne diseases to become an epidemic in the country. Major health facilities have suffered damage and lives are being lost due to shortages of medicines and health facilities. Those at higher-risk are women and little children, the most vulnerable in the crisis.

With major damage to major crops and infrastructure, prices have driven up across the country.  Pakistan will not only suffer immensely on the economic front, but,  it now faces the threat of a food crisis domestically as the stocks of staples dwindles in the wake of floods.

The shortages will not only have impact on Pakistan alone, but also, on the global markets. Major importers like Middle East should be on alert for the inflation’s primary fuel in the region will be the higher prices of food.

Global population growth continues to increase. With various countries neglecting the agriculture sector and with virtually no new research taking place, the demand is clearly outstripping the food supply.

Though its inhumane or cruel altogether to say, but, it seems that nature is balancing the two forces. Perhaps, the world is now witnessing and living the Malthusian checks in its raw form.